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The Actors of Dionysus 

Sara Benaim 


Like the ancient Greek touring companies, the Artists (technitoi) of Dionysus, the Actors of 
Dionysus go around the country to schools and festivals putting on professional productions 
of Greek tragedy. Founded in 1992, they have mounted productions of Hekabe, Hippolytos, 
and Elektra (the Euripides version). In November 1994, they are opening a new production 
of Antigone. Sara Benaim sent Omnibus her impressions of the Actors of Dionysus Elektra 
when it was performed earlier this year. 


* * * * 


Innovative productions of classical drama run the risk of becoming laboured or obscure. Not 
so with the recent tour of Euripides' Elektra , in David Stuttard's translation with Tamsin 
Shasha in the eponymous role. Set and costume were an anachronistic mix of ancient and 
modern; an apposite theme which was upheld by the entire production to good effect. 
Much of the clothing was Russian peasant style punctuated by the modern dress of 
Klytemnestra and the fantastic finery worn by the Dioskoroi. The set was sparse but 
effective, with the commonplace and the sacrosanct thrown together on stage - a 
representation of a wayside temple and a few chairs served to symbolise the juxtaposition 
of divine will and mortal concerns within the play. The only props used in the initial scenes 
were those demanded by the script, such as Elektra's water jar. Mirroring this, the acting 
was subtle even when Elektra lamented for Agamemnon, she wept with a low key precision 
which lent the character grace and dignity. These qualities were soon to act as a foil once 
Elektra is revealed as a revenge-obsessed neurotic, a device frequently used in productions 
of this tragedy and strengthened here by Elektra's almost muted entrance coupled with the 
quiet sympathy of the Farmer. 

Tradition, however, was utterly departed from in the portrayal of the Chorus. Their initial 
dialogue with Elektra was peppered with scorn and ill-concealed contempt: no philia here, 
just malicious condescension. Yet the choral odes revealed another facet - myths were read 
from manuscripts in tones of wonder blended with disbelief, lending these tales of gods and 
heroes all the beauty, horror - and implausibility - of fairytales; performance ran parallel 
with poetry. The treatment of Elektra's taunting address to Aigisthos' corpse, too, was 
utterly innovative. Instead of an ekkuklema, Elektra held her enemy's severed head before 
her, her own head coquettishly on one side as she oscillated between taunts and flirtation. 
Coming after a Messenger's speech whose delivery stressed Aigisthos' joviality and whose 
crescendo was contained in focusing on Orestes' brutality (the horror of this was highlighted 
by the portrayal of Orestes from the outset as a fearful and weak individual), the eerie effect 



of Elektra's grotesque pose was fully exploited. In keeping with this, the scene between 
Klytemnestra and her daughter had a distinctly sordid taint to it. Klytemnestra was a 
caricature of feminine allure in a flowing skirt teamed with a leather jacket, and there was 
no sharp exchange of comments here, no ricocheting of insults - only Elektra's contempt 
towards her mother, a contempt all the more biting through being laced with a kind of bitter 
jealousy. 

From this point on, the production travelled rapidly towards a dark conclusion. The 
Dioskoroi appeared before the shaken matricides in glittering costumes of gold, but the 
divine aspect lent by this attire seemed incongruous in a scene where Apollo's command is 
shown to have been unwise and the Trojan War revealed to have been fought for a 
phantom Helen. In keeping with this, subtle direction emphasised the atmosphere of unease 
with which the tragedy ends; Pylades cast a backward glance at his bride as she followed 
him reluctantly offstage and the ironic complacency of the Chorus' final words as the 'Actors 
of Dionysus' left the stage only intensified the feeling that, in true Euripidean mode, little 
had been resolved. 

Sara Benaim studied Classical Civilisation A /eve/ at Shena Simon College , Manchester before 
going on to a BA and MA (1993) in the subject at Leeds University. She now works as a Press 
Officer for the BBC in Manchester.